Can Civilians Buy Bulletproof Vests? What To Expect

Can Civilians Buy Bulletproof Vests? What To Expect

In today's uncertain world, many people seek ways to keep their families safe. 

As gun purchases increase, civilians are also considering body armor and bulletproof vests for protection. However, the legality of wearing them in public is not a straightforward answer, and depends on several factors. 

While in most cases it's legal, it's important to consider your location, criminal record, and intent, just like owning a gun. 

According to federal guidelines, it’s completely legal so long as you’re not using the vest while committing a crime and you’re not a convicted felon. 

Therefore, when it comes to buying bulletproof vests, you can not cut corners. Your life may depend on it, so make sure that you choose the right type of armor that can do the job.

In this blog post, we will talk about the performance of bulletproof vests, but first, you need to understand the different levels of armor available for the vests.

The Role Of NIJ Certification For Bulletproof Vests

The primary organization responsible for certifying and regulating body armor in the United States is the National Institute of Justice, commonly known as the NIJ. 

Manufacturers of body armor must adhere to specific standards established by the NIJ in order to obtain certification.

The NIJ is responsible for defining the protection levels of body armor and establishing the criteria that must be met by specific ballistic plates or bulletproof vests to qualify for these levels. To be classified at a certain threat level, a vest or plate must be capable of stopping multiple shots from specified test calibers.

When body armor has received NIJ certification, it guarantees that it will provide the level of protection advertised. 

Therefore, it is recommended to always use NIJ-certified body armor for reliable protection.

What Are The NIJ Ballistic Protection Levels

Over the years, the NIJ has established various ballistic armor protection levels, but currently, there are four widely recognized levels in the market.

The protection level of body armor determines the extent of ballistic protection it can offer and indicates which calibers it can effectively stop and which calibers it cannot.

The four popular NIJ protection levels are Level II, Level IIIa, Level III, and Level IV. Body armor rated at Level II and Level IIIa is designed to withstand pistol calibers and is commonly made from Aramid fibers such as Kevlar. 

As per the NIJ standards, a Level II plate must be able to stop shots from 9mm and .40 S&W. On the other hand, Level IIIa soft armor panels provide greater protection and can typically withstand almost all popular handgun rounds, including .44 magnum and .357 Sig, as they undergo testing for these calibers.

Level III hard armor plates are designed to offer protection against rifle threats and undergo testing using 7.62 NATO rounds, which are identical to civilian .308 Winchester rounds. Apart from that, Level III plates are capable of withstanding popular intermediate rifle rounds like 5.56x45mm NATO AR-15 rounds, as well as 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm AK rounds.

Level IV armor plates provide the most superior ballistic protection currently available in the market. These plates are capable of withstanding even the most powerful threats, including a 30.06 Armor Piercing bullet and 7.62 NATO AP rounds. Military-grade Level IV plates are also able to stop a 7.62x54R bullet, which was frequently used by enemy snipers in Afghanistan.

Protection | Can a Bulletproof Vest Save You?

Bulletproof vests typically contain soft armor panels, which are commonly Level IIIa Kevlar panels. While these panels are effective at stopping most pistol threats, it is essential to note that they have certain limitations.

Bulletproof vests are generally preferred over plate carriers with heavy body armor plates due to their lightweight and comfortable design. However, it is important to note that bulletproof vests cannot withstand rifle rounds, and some specialty rounds, such as the 5.7x28mm round fired by pistols like the FN 5.7, can penetrate them. 

Additionally, certain magnum revolver calibers, such as 500 Magnum and .50 AE, may also be capable of defeating soft armor bulletproof vests.

It is worth noting that using such calibers to conduct crimes is quite rare since larger framed pistols are required to shoot them. 

Police officers, security personnel, and civilians alike seldom encounter these types of handguns and therefore remain adequately protected from the vast majority of handgun rounds when wearing a bulletproof vest.

Choosing The Best Body Armor for Your Bulletproof Vest

Knowing the threats you’re likely to face will help in identifying the type of body armor to use in your plate carrier. There are two main types of body armor; soft armor and hard armor. 

Soft body armor is typically in the form of a soft insert that is rated at level 3a, which only stops handgun rounds. These are often found in backpacks and not inside a plate carrier. For your plate carrier, you’re going to want hard plates in order to defeat rifle threats.

For the best all-around hard armor plates, go with Level III which is rated to defeat 5.56 NATO and the hotter M855 green tip rounds. These are the most commonly used rounds with the AR-15 rifle. Level III body armor will also defeat other rifle rounds such as 7.62x39, 308 WIN, and 300 Blackout.

To determine what level of body armor plates you need in your plate carrier, it helps to understand the NIJ levels. 

For an in-depth explanation of these, be sure to read the following articles we wrote breaking it all down.

Level III vs Level IV Body Armor | Ultimate Guide to Understanding Body Armor

Level III vs Level III+ Body Armor | What’s the Difference?


When it comes to selecting body armor for a bulletproof vest, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. 

After all, your life may depend on a few inches of steel, ceramic, or plastic, so it is crucial to feel confident in your choice. 

It is advisable to conduct some research to determine the level of threat protection that suits your requirements and to take the time to measure yourself accurately to ensure you find the correct armor plates.

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